Thursday, December 6, 2007
I wrote this initially for the website KILL FROM THE HEART at least four years ago. The weirdest thing that has happened to me in the last year and a half, is all of the kids that I run into that know about Scared Straight. Even weirder is how some of them really REALLY like it, and that they weren't even born when the band recorded thier seven inch in February of 1985. That is pretty weird, I must say. So here is the story, with a little afterthought afterwards...
SCARED STRAIGHT: A BREIF HISTORY
Perhaps I might not be the best person qualified to write about the history of what could have been Simi Valley, California's first hardcore band that made waves in our area around the mid eighties. I was merely the band's drummer in a succession of drummers, and in fact I only was in the band for not even a whole year. But what a "not even a whole year" it was. Scared Straight, for all intents and purposes, was merely a fun kind of thing, a chance for some kids in our boring town to blow off steam and have fun. As a spectator, I knew of most of the original Scared Straight kids, Dennis Jagard (guitar), Steve Carnan (guitar), Morgan Freeman (bass) and Scott Radinsky (drums) as being some of the few punk rock types in my area. This was like '82 or '83. I saw a pre-Scared Straight outfit called S.O.F. (Secure Our Future, I believe is what it stood for) that had Scott and Dennis in it, and they played at a Simi Valley "battle of the bands" thing that happened in a roller rink that really blew me and my other fellow not punk yet nerdy friends away. They actually won the thing. When I actually did meet them, the above were already in the newer Scared Straight with a kid named Gary as the singer. Far from wondering if they would beat me up for looking normal and call me a poseur (it happened in high school), they were all pretty cool, and they liked the fact that I drew cartoons. I was eager to please and became a fan. Scared Straight didn't do too much at first but did play in the L.A. area a little bit, and of course played in our nearby punk mecca known as Oxnard, home of "Nardcore" i.e. Agression, Ill Repute, Stalag 13 and Dr. Know. In early '84 (I think), Gary was given the boot and Scott stepped into the vocalist slot while James Harris took over on drums. This version of the band quickly recorded a couple tracks for a Mystic Records compilation and then towards the end of the year James and Morgan either quit or were kicked out and the new members on bass and drums were Eric Swift, a hilarious uber-blond type from Newbury Park and uh... me.
Maybe it was the timing of everything, but it seemed like things started to happen a lot faster for Scared Straight after this. In the next six months we recorded a (don't laugh, please) nine song seven inch, we played out in the area several times, met and befriended a lot of cool kids, got to meet some of our heroes, were able to play up in San Francisco and Santa Cruz a couple of times and maybe even inspired some kids back in Simi Valley.
Oh yeah, then there is the band name, which came from the movie of the same name, not really from being Straight Edge at all. All though most of us were of that mindset, none of us were living our lives by what soon would be a really strange perversion of what was only a cool idea and a great song. We did know all of those types (Uniform Choice and Justice League) and we were friends with them, but we always laughed at people that took it all too seriously. And we were certainly before that stupid militant jockish mindset of "Straight Edge Hardcore" that soon spread like wildfire. Sorry, no Ray Cappo types in this band.
We went on a U.S. tour with Ill Repute in the summer of 1985 and had a blast until halfway through when all of our gear and personal belongings were ripped off in Pittsburgh, which was an amazing and shattering experience for a bunch of kids thousands of miles away from home. I quit the band so I could hang out on the east coast for the rest of the summer. The rest of the band went home and got a new drummer that Eric knew named Tim. They also got new equipment that sounded much better then what they had, the band suddenly playing and writing songs in a heavier direction somewhat sounding not unlike bands like Blast! They were a little pissed off at me for bailing but we still were friends. The band sounded good and I was a little bummed but I made my decision.
In the late winter of 1985 Scared Straight did another tour of the southwestern part of the country and since Tim couldn't go I gladly volunteered. We played good and it was worth quitting my crappy record store job (where everyone hated me anyways) at Tempo Records to do so. Afterwards, Tim re-assumed the drum throne and I would travel with them when I could to roadie and/or sing a song. I ended up moving to Raleigh in the spring of 1986.
Scared Straight kept going, recording another record for Mystic Records that came out against the band's wishes. The band started to go into hiatus mode for awhile as Dennis went up to Northern California for school and Scott ended up becoming a pro baseball player at a very early age, his wicked left handed fast ball a big calling card for oncoming fame and a profitable baseball career. Yet the band still hung in there, and after getting to know some Epitaph Records/NoFX type people, they recorded another record called Swill and then changed their name to Ten Foot Pole. The record was distributed through those Epitaph types and the band soon found themselves on the Epitaph roster. As an observer, I noticed that the band now tended to go towards the Epitaph type of thing instead of their former selves, a thing that wasn't really my thing but hey to each their own.
The band existed a part time thing due to Scott's baseball career for a few years until the rest of the band (Dennis, Steve, and a revolving door of bass players and drummers) gave Scott his walking papers. I don't think those guys are friends any more. Dennis took over as the singer. Scott started a new band called Pulley that also featured another old friend of mine, the very cool Mike Harder, a former metal head guitarist who loved the Descendents and was always floating around the Scared Straight camp somewhere. Both of these two bands came out of the Scared Straight thing and exist to this day. I have been living in Raleigh now for fifteen years; have played in a lot of bands over the years and still draw as much as I can.
To sum it all up, when I look back at the first real band that I had a chance to play in, I don't feel embarrassed by our crappy sounding output, or our MRR-copied mindset of the lyrics that Scott, our friend Rob Demko and myself cobbled together, and I don't look back and try to paint a situation of things bigger then they were. I say this because I have (believe it or not) read things that people have written about the band, and have marveled at how funny that seems to be. Scared Straight has even made it into those big Barnes and Noble sold "alternative" rock anthology books. We had a blast, a lot of fun-but we weren't really a great band, we were just there at the time. We looked up to bands like Minor Threat, Black Flag, Adolescents and of course the Nardcore bands, and we tried to emulate our heroes. There were HUNDREDS of better bands out there. But people still remember us so that is pretty great. I don't know why, really. But it is cool.
It said a lot of the time period that a band like ours could play somewhere in Lincoln Nebraska and have a couple hundred kids turning up, some driving a long way to see us, and having all of these kids know every dumb lyric off that nine song seven inch of ours. Things were way different then, maybe in a way it is the same now but still it was a special time. I think of the Scared Straight experience as one of being fun. It set the template for my musical future, the dream of being able to play in a band. I had a blast, really...
Posted by brian walsby at 7:07 PM